Remote, wild and rugged, Donegal is a place like no other in Ireland. Home to some of the most spectacular scenery the country has to offer, the country’s northernmost county must not be missed.
With jaw-dropping coastal views, countless beaches, towering cliffs, stunning mountain scenery, isolated islands and breathtaking driving routes waiting to be explored, Donegal is a dream destination for any outdoor enthusiast. The county is also home to endless lively pubs, a selection of quaint towns and villages, a diverse range of wildlife and some truly unmissable castles. Donegal might sometimes be referred to as “the forgotten county” but make sure that it is not forgotten from your Irish itinerary.
When should I go to Donegal?
For most travelers, the best time to visit Donegal is from May to September, when the weather is generally at its best. The warmest months typically are May, June, July and August with January, February and March being the coldest months. As with anywhere in Ireland, there’s a strong possibility of rain at any time of the year, so it’s wise to pack your waterproofs regardless of when you plan to visit.
June to August is the busiest season. In addition to all of the visitors from overseas, Irish school holidays are also on during this time which means that accommodation books up quicker, prices are higher and activity providers, beaches and hiking trails tend to be busier. Consider traveling in May, June or September for cheaper prices, fewer people and still a good chance of decent weather.
Spend some time on the beach in Bundoran – or hit the waves! © Falombini / Getty Images
When should I go to Donegal?
Donegal is the largest county in Ulster and travel times can be slow, especially if you are traveling on public transport. If you only have two to three days, it’s advisable to focus on a particular area, such as the Inishowen Peninsula or Donegal Town, where you have easy access to the incredible Slieve League Cliffs, Bluestack Mountains or can take a trip down to the little surf town of Bundoran.
For those with more time on their hands, you can drive part of the Wild Atlantic Way route between Donegal Town and the Inishowen Peninsula, stopping at some of the mind blowing beaches along the way. You could add in stops such as Doe Castle, take a trip out to one of the islands or spend a day hiking in spectacular Glenveagh National Park.
Is it easy to get in and around Donegal?
For three years running, Donegal Airport was voted the most scenic in the world. With two flights a day from Dublin, flying in and out of here is an experience in itself. Dublin’s airport is about a three-hour drive away and Belfast City and Belfast International Airport are approximately two hours’ drive.
While the major towns are well-connected by public bus, the best way to explore this part of Ireland is by car. Renting a car and driving yourself allows you to experience the true magic of Donegal and all that it has to offer. Driving routes such as the Innishown 100 are also popular with cyclists as well as those self-driving.
Take in all the serene views at Malin Head © Bruce Yuanyue Bi / Getty Images
Top things to do in Donegal
Slieve League Cliffs
About an hour outside of Donegal is the Slieve League Cliffs. Standing a staggering 601 meters tall, these cliffs are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe. Whether you choose to take in the magnificent views from Bunglass Point, wander some of the walking trails along the cliff top or take a boat ride around the base of the cliffs, this is one Donegal destination not to be missed.
Surf in Bundoran
Donegal is home to some of the best surf that Ireland has to offer and the lively seaside town of Bundoran is one of the epicenters of the Irish surf scene. There is a variety in and around the town depending on your ability level. The best waves are typically from September to May, although beginners can take lessons from one of the many surf schools in town throughout the year. Bundoran’s Main Beach also hosts the annual Sea Sessions surf music festival every July, which is always great craic.
At the very tip of the Inishowen Peninsula is Malin Head, Ireland’s most northerly point. When it comes to coast views, there’s nowhere better than there to stand still and take it all in. Seals and dolphins can be spotted around the headland and basking sharks often gather in the waters here during the summer months. After a day of adventuring around the headland, be sure to stop into Farran’s Bar, Ireland’s most northerly for a well-earned pint.
Two people on a boat sailing in the Glenveagh National Park. © David Diaz / Getty Images
My favorite thing to do in Donegal
For me, the rugged, untouched landscape of Donegal is what truly makes it special. One of the most amazing places to experience this wilderness is in Glenveagh National Park. Not only are there a range of different trails to explore but the park is also home to a diverse range of wildlife and different terrain from mountains to woodlands to bogland, all of which you can dive into with ease from the park. Wild camping is also permitted within the national park with a permit, allowing you to spend more time soaking up the incredible natural beauty of this stunning corner of the country.
In addition to the wild outdoors, Glenveagh Castle and Gardens are also contained within the park, offering an opportunity to take a step back in time and learn about the history of the area and how the park came to be. The gardens in particular are beautiful, featuring an impressive collection of shrubs and trees from the southern hemisphere.
How much money do I need for Donegal?
Donegal has a range of dining and accommodation options with something available for all budgets. If you’re staying in hostels with self-catering, traveling by public transport and eating at inexpensive restaurants, you can expect to spend about €40 to €60 per day. If you prefer to stay in 4-star hotels, eat at more upmarket restaurants and rent a car, you should budget between €200 to €300 per day for a couple. Listed below are an idea of the prices you should expect in Donegal:
- Basic hotel room: €85 to €140
- Self Catering Apartment: €100 to €170
- Local Link Bus Service: €3
- Coffee: €2.50 to €3.50
- Sandwich: €4 to €8
- Pint: €5.50 to €7.50
- Dinner for two: €30 to €80
Frequently asked questions
Allow plenty of time
Donegal is a large county and travel times can be slow so be sure to allow plenty of time to get from A to B.
If you are self-driving, be sure to take it slow. A lot of the roads, particularly in rural areas, are narrow and winding. You will often be sharing them with farm machinery, cyclists, walkers and the odd sheep, so drive with caution.
Bring plenty of layers
The weather in Donegal is very changeable so be sure to pack plenty of layers so you stay warm and dry no matter what time of the year you are visiting.
Watch the weather
In Donegal, the weather can really impact your plans so be sure to check the forecast in advance and plan your travels accordingly.
Come at the right time for your activity
If you’re chasing waves, winter is the best time to visit. Festival goers and roadtrippers will have more fun in summer. And for hikers, spring and autumn are great times to explore the mountains.